Sri Lanka is a gorgeous island country located just south of India. On the map it looks like a teardrop! Out of the 127 countries that we have been lucky enough to visit, Sri Lanka is definitely one of our top 10 favorites.
Why? First, it’s the amazing people. Of course a lot of places have lovely people. Yet, Sri Lanka has some of the most thoughtful and giving people in the world. Second, the nature of this island is incredibly diverse and verdant. Third, the deep history and Buddhist culture make it one of the most interesting and iconic nations.
Oh Ella, it is truly a magical place! Located in the thick green mountains, it is nestled between stunning tea plantations. This town has the best of Sri Lanka bar none. We enjoyed a week in this extraordinary town and wished that we spent much more time!
Driving near Ella to one of it’s many waterfalls we came upon a large group of monkeys and a few dogs.
The monks dropped off a large bunch of bananas for the head monkey who was passing them out to the others one by one. He even gave some to the stray dogs. Wow, I wish we humans can learn from these “animals”.
Ella Rock Viewpoint Hike
This gorgeous hike takes you along railroad tracks that are a pedestrian walking path for the locals. Strolling along this path, we saw so many people carrying tea and other greenery on their heads to the next destination. It is truly a trail to the past.
Once you exit from the railroad tracks the track gets quite steep. This is a good step by step review of this hike. Once we reached the top, we were welcomed by a stunning view of the valley.
Nine Arch Bridge
One of the most iconic symbols of Sri Lanka is the Nine Arch Bridge in Ella. The best views of the train passing through is here.
The Monastery in Ritigala Andiyakanda Aranya Senasanaya is one of the most magical places on earth. After driving for about 40 minutes on a very rough rutted out dirt road we arrived at the entrance.
At first we could not believe our eyes. There was a monk in a red robe gardening and tending to his animals. He was flanked by 3 deer. Yes, deer. These guys were following him around like dogs. And yes, there were happy canines and monkeys who also looked on to this mystical monk as their human/leader.
Monk Doolittle proceeded to invite us into the monastery. We took off our shoes and covered up. Walking around we saw little meditation areas built into the trees. Down the little trails we saw small hobbit homes built into the gigantic rocks of the forest.
The “feeling” there was out of this world. It was as if we doubled the oxygen in our lungs. An overwhelming sensation of serenity came over both of us.
As we were leaving we walked past the monk and a feeling of well-being came over us even more.
As you can imagine, for me this is one of the most mystical and supernatural places on earth.
If you are not as lucky to be welcomed into the monastery, there are signs to go to the Ritigala Archeological Site, which is also worth a visit.
Sigiriya, otherwise known as Lion Rock is an ancient fortress which is naturally made out of rock. It is 200 meters high and found in the center of Sri Lanka.
The site dates back to the reign of King Kasyapa (477-495 AD), who chose this site as his new capital. He decorated the walls with frescoes, and built an impressive palace right on top of the rock column, accessible only through the mouth of an enormous carved lion.
Many people consider this to be the prize jewel of Sri Lanka. And yes, the rock is very impressive. Yet, we had a few very unpleasant run ins with folks while visiting which left a very bad taste in our mouths.
However, the area of Sigiriya is stunning and so is the rock.
PRO TIP: If you want to stay in an amazing place (for a very low price) we would highly recommend the King’s Village Sigiriya. They have 3 stand alone small buildings in the middle of rice fields where peacocks fly around and the sunsets are out of this world. The lady that runs this place makes the most outstanding breakfasts. My vegan options were incredible.
Galle is a stunning UNESCO World heritage site. This is a perfect city for walking on cobblestone streets and exploring the many historic and colorful streets. Numerous cafes and shops line the Dutch-colonial buildings. It is truly a charming place to be.
There are galleries to stroll and delicious food to eat.
PRO TIP: Arches Fort, Galle is right in the center of the old town, yet far enough away from the noise. We really enjoyed their location, hospitality and breakfasts.
5. Secret City of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993. This ancient city has the Brahmanic monuments built by the Cholas as well as the monumental ruins of the fabulous garden-city created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th century.
Although it was raining during our visit, we still enjoyed the many hours of walking around the very large grounds of this secret ancient city.
6. Kosgoda – the Best Beach in Sri LAnka
The Sheraton Kosgoda Turtle Beach resort is located on the southern east coast of the island. And it is the nicest beach of Sri Lanka! The white sand is pristine and the beach is quite deep – lots of room to sunbathe or play. In addition, there are so many turtles here.
At night, we watched very large turtles berrying their eggs in the deep sand.
7.Buduruwagala Raja Statues
Deep in the forest we found the Buduruwagala Raja Statues. The complex consists of seven statues dating back to the 10th century. These are sacred grounds and you can feel it while admiring these huge carvings.
8. Yala National Park
Yala National Park is the second largest wildlife park in Sri Lanka. Yet in our opinion it is the nicest and least crowded one. It is located in the south east corner of the island- so a bit more secluded than the others. Subsequently, this park is essential for the conservation of Sri Lanka’s elephants and aquatic birds.
PRO TIP: One of the nicest aspects of visiting Yala National Park are the accommodations. Our recommendation is to stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Weerawila Rajawarna Resort.
The pool is one of the biggest that we have ever seen with a great view of the wildlife.
9. Mirissa Surfing
Although Mirissa does not have the nicest beach for swimming. It does have a good surf and a laid back vibe.
There are many surf schools to choose from in Mirissa. Yet the best one is Chuty‘s Surf School Mirissa Beach.
Just south of Sunset Bar Mirissa, in the cove there is a place to swim with turtles.
10. Kandy – Royal Forest Park
Kandy is the second biggest city in the country. It is set on a plateau surrounded by mountains, which are home to tea plantations and a biodiverse rainforest. The city’s heart is the scenic Kandy Lake which is popular for strolling.
Kandy is famous for it’s sacred Buddhist sites, including the Temple of the Tooth shrine. We did not find the Buddhist sites in Kandy that interesting.
However, if you find yourself in the city, the lake and the Royal Forest Park are both worth a visit. We spent 4 days here, and regretted not shifting these days to some of our other destinations.
Sri Lanka is definitely on our top 10 list of favorite countries to visit. We spent a month here and found that we needed more time.
The gracious people, peaceful Buddhist culture and vibrant nature are all the reasons why we love this island nation. In many ways it reminds us of Thailand. Have you been to Sri Lanka? What was your experience like? Are you planning to go? We would love to hear from you!